23 June 2011

Jewish bodies found in medieval well in Norwich

The remains of 17 bodies found at the bottom of a medieval well in England could have been victims of persecution, new evidence has suggested.

The most likely explanation is that those down the well were Jewish and were probably murdered or forced to commit suicide, according to scientists who used a combination of DNA analysis, carbon dating and bone chemical studies in their investigation.

The skeletons date back to the 12th or 13th Centuries at a time when Jewish people were facing persecution throughout Europe.

They were discovered in 2004 during an excavation of a site in the centre of Norwich, ahead of construction of the Chapelfield Shopping Centre. The remains were put into storage and have only recently been the subject of investigation. Seven skeletons were successfully tested and five of them had a DNA sequence suggesting they were likely to be members of a single Jewish family.

DNA expert Dr Ian Barnes, who carried out the tests, said: "This is a really unusual situation for us. This is a unique set of data that we have been able to get for these individuals.

"I am not aware that this has been done before - that we have been able to pin them down to this level of specificity of the ethnic group that they seem to come from."

'Ethnic cleansing'

The team has been led by forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black, of the University of Dundee's Centre for Anthropology and Human Identification.

Regarding the nature of the discovery, Professor Black said: "We are possibly talking about persecution. We are possibly talking about ethnic cleansing and this all brings to mind the scenario that we dealt with during the Balkan War crimes."

Eleven of the 17 skeletons were those of children aged between two and 15. The remaining six were adult men and women.


Find out more - Watch Cold Case video here

  • History Cold Case: The Bodies in the Well was broadcast on BBC Two at 2100 BST on Thursday 23 June 2011
  • Professor Sue Black, Dr Xanthe Mallett and Professor Caroline Wilkinson will delve deeper into the mystery and attempt to recreate the faces of those found in the well

19 March 2013
Bodies believed to be Jews murdered in medieval Norwich buried after 800 years

An 800-year wait to bury the bodies of suspected victims of religious persecution ended today in a ceremony at Earlham Cemetery.

The 17 bodies, believed to be those of Jews who were killed and dumped in Norwich well, were laid to rest, closing a dark chapter in the city’s history.

Workers found the remains in 2004 while preparing for the building of Chapelfield Shopping Centre.

At the time it was thought they may have been plague victims.

The bones were dated from 1150 to 1300 and in 2011 a BBC2 programme suggested the bones belonged to members of the Jewish community.

                                                        Clive Roffe, Norwich representative on the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who led the campaign to bury the remains, said: “This is an historic event. It has been very hard. There have been lots of twists and turns. It’s not been an easy road but we are pleased to have got there.”

16 February 2015 

Plaque unveiled in honor of Jewish skeletons

A plaque has been unveiled in Norwich to commemorate the 17 jewish people whose bones were uncovered during an excavation in the city.

The skeletons, thought to date back to the 12th century, were found when the Chapelfield shopping centre was being built in 2004.

They were eventually buried in the city's Jewish cemetery in 2013.

The bones were discovered in 2004

The remains of 17 people, 11 children aged between 2 and 15 and six adults, were found at the bottom of a medieval well.

The Lord Mayor of Norwich, Councillor Judith Lubbock unveiled the plaque on Chapelfield Plain on the side of the intu Chapelfield Shopping Centre.